Survivors blast Germany for ‘worthless’ compensation

By Craig Silver, July 18, 2008
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Berlin gives two former slave labourers just £1,600 after more than 60 years

Two Holocaust survivors have attacked the German government for “worthless” offers of £1,600 in compensation payments.

Helena Aronson and Krulik Wilder survived two Polish ghettos where they worked as slave labourers in filthy factories for up to 12 hours a day.

Mr Wilder, who now lives in Radlett, Herts, was deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp in December 1944. He was liberated by the Russians from Theresienstadt in May 1945.

Mrs Aronson survived the war in the Łódz ghetto. Now 81, Mrs Aronson, née Chmura, was dragged as a 12-year-old from her home in Pabjanice, Poland, and sent to Łódz in 1939.

Her father, Motush Chmura, died after volunteering to take children to the Chelmno camp, where he was eventually gassed. In 2003, Mrs Aronson, who now lives in North Greenwich, planted a rose in his memory at the UK Holocaust Centre in Nottingham.

With her mother and brother, she came out of the ghetto at the age of 17 after it was liberated by the Russians. “When the war was going on, every hour was a fight to stay alive,” she recalled this week.

“We all wanted to survive, and never would have thought the Germans would lose and that we would be the witnesses.

“During the day I used to take the children to work in the factory where we all made powder compacts, uniforms — basically anything you could think of and anything that could be made into money.”

Towards the end of the war, 750 people were ordered to stay in the ghetto and clean up. After a while, Helena and her family began to fear the worst — that they would be killed by the Germans. “We had a suicide plan, that if they took us away we knew we were not coming back, so we would have taken poison.”

They were rescued by the Russians, but out of 220,000 people in the ghetto, only 750 people survived.

“No amount of money will ever compensate for losing your childhood,” she said. “I haven’t decided what to do with the money, but will probably just share it with my family.”

Mr Wilder, 79, was first taken to Piotrkow ghetto with his father. His mother and sister were murdered at the Treblinka camp.

He described how the first two days were utter chaos. “We were hiding in the cellar when the bombs were falling on the town. It was horrendous — people crying, praying, declaiming Shema Yisroel. We tried to escape towards the east, but unfortunately the Germans caught up with us. We were very bewildered and confused, not knowing what to do. On our return, to our dismay, we found that the Jews were being terrorised.”

Aged 10, he began to work in a glass factory with his father; they were eventually transferred in 1944 to Buchenwald, where his father died from ill-health. “I was very distressed that I could not save him: to this day I still cannot get over it. He came so close to freedom, but it was not his fate to survive.” 

Mr Wilder, now a retired watchmaker, joined the Israeli army as a volunteer in 1948 for 10 months and served in the War of Independence. Speaking about the ghetto fund, Mr Wilder acknowledged: “Whatever they give you is not worth it. How can you replace your family? But at the same time, it does help people — and it is a mitzvah to take it.”

    Last updated: 4:31pm, January 8 2009